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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Henry,

No, I mean exactly what I said. The double shows specifically a doubleton.

Hermann,

I bid something. Anything. Perhaps 2 if the suit has good quality. Perhaps 2NT, assuming it is takeout or good-bad, depending which my partnership agreements say it is (it definitely is not natural). Perhaps 3 of a minor. The one thing I don't do is pass. We don't defend at the 2-level when I have a singleton in their suit.

Jon,

In general, partner counts his trumps and if his count gets up to 4 he passes. Obviously he can and should use some judgment. With an offensively oriented hand such as Qx xxxx xxx KQJx I would bid 2. But normally partner would pass the double with 4 hearts.

It is true that you will chalk up an occasional -470. That is part of the price of doing business. It doesn't look good on the scorecard, but the cost is at most 8 IMPs (vs. -110). Often the cost won't be nearly that great, as the alternative would have been to go for a number yourself.

The upside is more frequent and can be almost as large. Often they go down when you would have gone down for a swing of at least 4 IMPs, sometimes more. Sometimes you collect a number when they go down 2 or more. Even if they are down 1 and you would be making your part-score, you will have about broken even.

The 2-card double is simply an application of the Law of Total Tricks. When the opponents have a 7-card fit and your side has a 7 or 8-card fit, it is usually right to defend at the 2-level since the trump total is at most 15 and often 14. However, if they have an 8-card fit, it is usually right to declare in your best fit.

The big advantage from the 2-card double is that you don't over-compete when the opponents don't have the trump length they say they have. How many times have you had an opponent overcall, his partner raise, and you over-compete thinking they have an 8-card fit only to find out that the overcall was on a 4-card suit or the raise was on a doubleton. Playing the 2-card double you don't fall into this trap. For example, suppose you hold: Axx, xx, KJxx, Axxx and hear the bidding go: 1-1-2-2;? If the opponents have the 8-card spade fit they say they have it is probably right to compete to 3. Playing the 2-card double, you don't have to trust them. You can pass, confident that if partner has a doubleton spade he will make his own 2-card double. Similarly, if you have the same hand with 2 spades and 3 hearts you can make a 2-card double, and if it is right to defend partner will know it.
Aug. 28, 2011
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In order to analyze this problem, it will be necessary to make a few assumptions:

1) What will you lead? If you will always lead a top club, the double won't affect your chances of defeating the contract. However, if you decide the best lead is the 10 of clubs, then clearly you don't want to double and give the show away. I will assume a top club will always be the lead.

2) Possibility of a runout. On this auction it is unlikely the opponents will be running. Also, if they do run I don't know whether I am happy or sad about it. I will assume that this is a wash, so a runout doesn't matter.

3) Danger of a redouble. At matchpoints this is obviously irrelevant. What is worst case at IMPs? If an overtrick makes, you would lose 11 IMPs instead of 6 IMPs for just doubled. It is very rare that there will be a redouble. An opponent would have to have both extra strength and all suits stopped to redouble, and even then he might not. Since the redouble costs at most 5 extra IMPs and is very rare, I'm going to ignore it.

At matchpoints, the double is basically an even money bet against other pairs in 3NT. It is unlikely to make a difference against other contracts, and on this auction 3NT figures to be a very common contract.

At IMPs, the range figures to be from down 2 to making 4. The IMP swings are:

down 2: +5
down 1: +2
make 3: -4
make 4: -6

This indicates that you need better than even money odds to justify the double at IMPs.

What are the odds of a set? If the enemy clubs are 3-3 or worse, you always set them. If they are 4-3, you will set them 3/7 of the time. I'll estimate (just a guess, I admit) that 30% of the time they will be 3-3 or worse. Of the remaining 70% of the time when they split 4-3 you will set them 3/7 or 30%. By these estimates you will defeat the contract about 60% of the time, making the double a good bet at matchpoints. At IMPs, it looks to be a tossup.
Aug. 19, 2011
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Martin,

No, I don't play that way any more. As I remember, the idea was to describe various notrump ranges. 2NT showed balanced 16-18. 2D (ostensibly 1-suited major) followed by 2NT showed balanced 19-20, and double (ostensibly 4-card major and longer minor) followed by 2NT showed balanced 21-22. Or something like that.
Aug. 18, 2011
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Shan,

The situation you present is a very difficult problem. Suppose you had, in fact, forgotten your agreements and thought that your double of 1NT was a penalty double. If that were the case I think it is clear that you should not be permitted to bid 2NT. You would have received UI (about partner's interpretation of your call), bidding 2NT is clearly the suggested action (vs. passing) from the UI, and passing is certainly a reasonable (if not correct) action assuming you had made a penalty double and partner had bid 2.

The problem is that only you know what was in your mind. You knew what you were doing when you took the actions you did, but that would not be apparent to others. Of course if your statement that you were planning this sequence all along could be trusted then obviously what you did was okay. But this means that you would have to be believed, and we all know how players make self-serving statements. The director and/or committed should ignore these potential self-serving statements, look at the actual hands and actions taken, and from these draw the conclusion about what was going on.

In your case, I do not think it is clear from looking at your hand whether you had forgotten or were taking a planned action. Since you did receive potential UI from the alert, the default assumption should be that you did, in fact, forget. Therefore, I'm afraid that the director's ruling is correct unless you could produce some substantial evidence (other than your own potentially self-serving statement) that you had been planning the auction. This would have to be the judgment of the director or a committee.

It would be a lot nicer if there were screens, of course. Then there would be no problem doing what you did since there would be no UI and the opponents would receive the correct explanation of what your bid means – whether you choose to violate your agreements is your business. However, without screens it really is necessary to take the possibility of receiving what would appear to be UI when considering a system violation.



Aug. 18, 2011
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While I would have passed the double like everybody else, I consider it a close decision. Let's suppose you are playing 13-15 notrumps, and partner opens 1NT. Would you pass or get to 2? Of course you would get to 2. On balance, you expect hearts to take more tricks than notrump. Well, when partner doubles 1NT his most likely hand type is 13-15 balanced, and +110 for making 2 outscores +100 for making 1NT (on defense). Of course it isn't as simple as that. You have the advantage (you think) of being able to lead a heart against notrump. Also, if you take 8 tricks in notrump (on defense) your +300 outscores +140 for 9 tricks in hearts. That is why I do agree with the pass, although I consider it close. But that is not the big issue here.

When I first saw the problem, 5 conceivable bids occurred to me: Pass, 2NT, 3NT, 3, and 4. For reasons I discussed previously I quickly eliminated all but 2NT and 3NT. In my mind, while Pass, 3, and 4 are conceivable bids (as opposed to something like 3 which is not conceivable), they are not serious contenders. Thus, I do not believe South should be required to do anything but bid 2NT or 3NT, and if I were on a committee that is the way I would rule.

Of course, if in your mind 3 and/or 4 are serious contenders, then it would be correct for you to rule that South should be required to make one of these calls, as bidding 2NT or 3NT vs. 3 or 4 is certainly suggested by the UI. As they say, differences of opinions make horse races and committee rulings.
Aug. 17, 2011
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I do not agree with the authors that South is required to pluck out the action which will likely work out the worst given the unauthorized information. South's duty is to play bridge. He should make the call which would be the correct call if there had been no unauthorized information.

What does North's sequence show? It would be nice if we knew what the N-S methods vs. 1NT are, so we would know what other ways North might have available to show a spade suit. Assuming that N-S aren't playing anything special, North's sequence typically shows a 5-card spade suit and around 15-19 points.

What is there about the South hand which suggests playing in a 5-2 fit? Nothing. South has no ruffing value, and honors in two of the other suits. South should clearly bid 2NT or 3NT. 2NT shows values, since if South had nothing he would have passed. Furthermore North will play South for exactly this shape when South bids 2NT or 3NT, since South didn't raise spades, rebid his hearts, or bid a minor. Thus, if we belong in spades North will get us there.

Whether South should bid 2NT or 3NT could be debated. It looks like a close call to me. If one of these actions were clearly suggested by the unauthorized information then South should take the other action, but it isn't obvious to me which of these actions is suggested by the unauthorized information. However, 3 or 4 would simply be bad bids on South's part (without the UI), and South is not required to make a bad bid just because he received UI.

The 4NT call is completely out of line, of course. In addition, it is a pretty stupid thing to do. There isn't a director or a committee which would allow the bid to stand if it worked out well. The contract would always be rolled back to 4. So South was only giving himself the worst of it with the 4NT call.
Aug. 16, 2011
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Mike,

You are correct – the methods were not forgotten. North knew he was making a slam try.

A guideline which I have found very useful for determining whether or not to make a game try or a slam try is as follows: Give partner a perfect or near-perfect minimum. If that produces a great (not just good) play for the game or slam, then you are worth an invite. If not, forget it. It isn't worth shooting for the perfecto unless the auction is such that partner will know if he has that perfecto. The probability of getting too high (either at the 6-level or the 5-level) is greater than the probability of reaching a good slam.

If that criterion had been applied here, it would be clear that the North hand is not worth an invite.
Aug. 15, 2011
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As is often the case in these high-level decisions, the big question is whether or not the partnership is in a force. In my partnerships the 4 call creates a force, since it is a voluntary non-preemptive game bid (we don't preempt over preempts). Whether this is best or not is not important. What is important is that a partnership have clear and unambiguous rules which determine whether or not a force has been created regardless of the auction.

Since East did pass out 5, I will assume that in their partnership the 4 call did not create a force. Thus, the bad result is one of poor judgment rather than partnership confusion.

What does West know about the hand? Quite a lot. He knows North is asking South to choose, so North must be 3-3 in the red suits. That means that East has a singleton heart. If East has as much as one ace 5 isn't down off the top – it will make if East has good enough trumps and/or clubs to take care of West's small hearts. West has potentially zero defense against 5. Also, if East has really good defense against one of the red suits he would have doubled 4NT to convey that message. All these factors indicate that West has a clear 5 call.

Should East have done anything different? I don't think so. From his point of view his partner could hold something like AQJ10xxx xxx xx x. Opposite a hand such as that 5 is probably down 2, while the fate of 5 is uncertain. Thus, while selling out to 5 undoubled is unlikely to be the perfect action, it may still be the percentage action. Suppose 5 is down 2, and 5 is 50% to make. In that case saving is wrong on balance, but so is doubling.
Aug. 11, 2011
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Let's assume the contract is 6 at the other table, which is probably cold. I would start by asking how many kings partner has. This shows that I have the queen of trumps, so RHO might lead a singleton trump. Also, the response will guide my choice as follows:

If partner has zero kings, I will bid 7H. I expect that to be a favorite due to the possibility of the singleton trump lead. 6NT doesn't look right. 6NT will also be a winner if everything works, but I don't think that is percentage. I think the cost of a 4-1 club split outweighs the gain when they don't find the right lead, the hearts are bad, and the clubs split.

If partner has 1 king, I will bid 6NT. Now the chances that they will find the right lead are considerably smaller, so I am more likely to win the board instead of lose it when the hearts are bad.

If partner has 2 kings, I will bid 7NT. Now there is a real possibility of making even if the hearts don't come home (6 clubs, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 spades), as well as a chance to survive a 4-1 club split when the hearts come home.
Aug. 5, 2011
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As perceptive readers have no doubt deduced, I was in fact East on this deal. The huddle on the queen of spades wasn't hypothetical. At the table that is what happened. I did consider leading a club, but rejected it since I felt that declarer (a very competent and aware player) would have picked up on the huddle and played me for the queen. It wasn't clear whether I would be able to dodge the end-play, but I thought that returning a club was a concession. As things went declarer should have made the hand, but he surprisingly lost the thread and took the heart finesse.

I hadn't thought about the ethical considerations at the time. It was only later when I was writing up the hand that I realized that I might have had an ethical problem. In retrospect I don't believe that I did, and that I am allowed to have the information that partner huddled as long as the huddle doesn't tell me something about the hand which I don't already know. But it is an interesting question, one which I have never come across before.
Aug. 4, 2011
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Obviously they are in unexplored territory. However, some things can be deduced.

1) It is known from West's pass of 2NT that West has psyched. Of course nobody has any idea what kind of a psych it is. West might have a real spade suit or he might have a worthless doubleton.

2) East voluntarily bid 4 with the knowledge that West had psyched. Since he bid it over 3, not over 4, the assumption is that he is bidding to make.

3) I don't know what their forcing pass rules are. However, I believe that most pairs would agree that if we bid a voluntary game non-preemptively, that puts the partnership in a force. Therefore, West's pass isn't just a nothing to say call. West is showing some interesting in hearing his partner bid 5. If West had no such interest (which would be the case had he psyched a short suit), then he should double. I admit that I probably would have doubled on the West hand, but Stansby did better.

4) Opposite a forcing pass, showing interest in bidding on, it looks to me like East has a clear 5 call, maybe more.
July 18, 2011
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I don't see much reason to lead either major. If declarer is ruffing hearts in dummy, partner can overruff. A heart lead will usually just play into declarer's hands, as well as tipping declarer off about the heart suit. Dummy is likely to have some source of tricks in the minors for heart discards.

It is thematic for the defense to try to get ruffs in the short hand. Therefore, I would lead a club. The club lead has three possible things going for it.

1) Setting up a club trick in partner's hand before it gets discarded on diamonds.
2) Knocking off dummy's entry before declarer can make use of it. If dummy is 2-2 in the majors and declarer has a singleton diamond and a doubleton club this will be very valuable.
3) Setting up a possible overruff on the third round of clubs.

July 15, 2011
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I well remember this hand. I was playing with Eddie Manfield. We were leading by about 1 board going into the final session, and we played this hand in the second round. I also declared 7NT. I might have done the same thing Lawrence did, but there was one difference – my 7NT was doubled and redoubled. No down 1 for me! When the jack of hearts came down I was sure it was going to be our day, but we faltered and fell to fourth.
July 14, 2011
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Playing West for the queen of clubs is clearly the percentage action, by more than might be realized. Look at the inferences:

1) The spades are clearly 4-4. Not only is there the inference from the opening lead, but if the spades were 5-3 East would have split his diamonds so you couldn't steal a diamond trick.

2) When your 10 of diamonds holds, East is known to have at least 3 diamonds. Quite likely he has more than 3 diamonds, since with KJx he might have split.

3) If West were 4-4 in the major, he might have led a heart. That makes it more likely that East has at least 4 hearts.

From the above inferences it is clear that there is zero chance that West has a singleton club, while it is quite possible that East has a singleton. Also, if the clubs are 3-2 West is much more likely to hold the tripleton. This makes playing West for the queen of clubs the clear percentage play by a fair margin.

The concept of intentionally taking an anti-percentage play when well behind in a match is sound, but there are 2 necessary conditions:

1) The play can't be anti-percentage by too much. On this deal, playing East for the queen of clubs would be anti-percentage by quite a lot.

2) It must be almost certain that your counterpart at the other table will be facing the same problem. That is far from clear. They might play it from the North side. They might not get to game. They might get a different opening lead. They might not attack diamonds first as you did. Taking these things into account, it is far from certain that they will face the same problem.

I had a similar problem in the senior trials last month. We were behind 40 IMPs after the first quarter, and this was the first board of the 2nd quarter. We were vulnerable.

AKQ10x
AK
QJx
K9x

xx
Qxx
AKx
AJ10xx

I opened 1NT. Partner bid Gerber, and then 7NT. I got a heart lead and tested the spades, finding out that East had Jxxx of spades. How should I play the clubs?

Obviously the percentage play is to play West for the queen of clubs since he is shorter in spades, but the difference is pretty small. It would be hard to imagine that my counterpart wouldn't be facing exactly the same problem, and he would certainly make the percentage play. So, should I put 20 IMPs up for grabs by playing East for the queen?

At the table I played West for the queen, and went down 2 for the expected push. In retrospect, I think I should have gone the other way.
July 11, 2011
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Michael,

I agree that once you get to the point you describe you have to take the double heart finesse – West can no longer have started with Hxxx in hearts and Kxxx of diamonds. However, that approach not only risks the 6-2 spade split – it also gives up the potential trump squeeze against East since it is necessary to delay the second diamond ruff for the trump squeeze to operate. In theory the trump squeeze option isn't so valuable since you may have to guess whether you have squeezed East or Kxx of diamonds was always coming down, and if East is squeezed which suit he unguarded. In practice defenders have a difficult time discarding deceptively in this sort of position, and an alert declarer will get it right more often than not.
July 9, 2011
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We don't have to risk a 6-2 spade split, and we don't have to give up on Kxx of diamonds. We can still keep our squeeze possibilities alive. Draw trumps, pitching 1 heart (or 2 hearts if trumps are 4-1) from dummy, ace of diamonds, AKQ of spades (diamond pitch), diamond ruff, another trump (if trumps were 3-2), coming down to 10xx of hearts and a trump in hand, AK of hearts and Qx of diamonds in dummy. If one opponent guards both red suits, he will have been squeezed. Of course you will have to guess what has happened, as is often the case with a trump squeeze.

If the black suit information indicates that East is unlikely to be guarding both red suits, then (assuming trumps are 3-2), instead cross to ace of hearts, ruff another diamond, and play the last trump, squeezing West if he holds both guards. This won't involve a guess, since you can see if West discards the king of diamonds.

If the trumps are 4-1, you have to either commit to the trump squeeze or risk a 6-2 spade split. When West has the 4 trumps, the trump squeeze approach is clearly best. If East has 4 trumps, I'm not sure – probably right to risk the 6-2 spade split so can have the simple squeeze on West.

I don't see any variation where the double finesse will be better than the squeeze, unless the 9 of clubs entry is used for the second diamond ruff and East shows up with king-fifth of diamonds. That both risks the 6-2 spade split and gives up on the trump squeeze against East. I don't think is the percentage approach.
July 9, 2011
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Don't worry, Mike. I'm sure I'll give you plenty of opportunities to happily disagree with me.
July 5, 2011
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Peter,

You are correct in the variation where declarer wins the ace of spades and West ducks the second spade. Then it is better to take the club finesse first.

In the variation where declarer ducks the first spade and West continues with a small spade, I do believe heart to the king has a better chance. Here, the defense gets only 1 spade trick when the ace of hearts is onside.
July 5, 2011
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While some of the earlier calls might be debated, they are all reasonable. It is the final two calls which are the crux of the problem.

Expert partnerships should have clearly defined agreements on the meanings of actions when a notrump probe such as this is doubled. Without explicit agreements, it seems logical that an immediate 3 or 3NT call should show a definite preference for that strain. Pass should show no clear preference. The North hand has some help in both hearts and spades, hence no clear preference. She should have passed, after which South, with a heart stopper opposite any help, would have bid 3NT.

On the actual auction, South was quite correct to bid 4. She had every reason to expect North to hold something like Kx xx KQxx KQxxx, and 4 would be the best game if North held that. South should not bid 3NT, since North cannot know that South's spades are good enough to play a 5-2 fit.

The double should have helped N-S. Without the double North might have chosen 3 rather than 3NT, and South might have then chosen 4 instead of 3NT playing North for Kx of spades and 2 small hearts. The double gave North the opportunity to avoid expressing a strong opinion.

July 5, 2011
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Obviously the Kokish-style relay works better when you are dealt the big balanced hands. The tradeoff comes when opener has hearts and responder can't immediately bid naturally. Our experience is that the latter is more important.

It just isn't worth splitting hairs over an extra jack. Sometimes we will miss a 65% game. Sometimes we will get to a 30% game. Big deal. The expected cost of these sins is relatively small, perhaps a couple of IMPs. Remember, sometimes 65% games go down and sometimes 30% games make. The cost of getting to the wrong strain can be a lot greater.
July 4, 2011
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